Well, it’s nearly New Years, and you know what that means—time for the plethora of Greatest Hits, Year in Review, Dire Predictions, and so on and so forth, and mine is no exception. Time to review how the year went in my home base, Squash’s Garden!
Stuff Got Done
I had a busy year. I dug a small pond, built a great number of beds, slung mountains of mulch and planted several flatbed trucks worth of plants. And I made compost! Largely by accident, but real honest-to-god compost! I am determined to be proud of that, even as I urge you to look away from the Patio That Hasn’t Been Worked On In Four Months. (What patio? I see no patio here! Look! Behind you! A crocus! With a machine gun!)
Friends Stopped By
And by “friends” I mean the black vulture who perched on the roof for awhile, the black-and-white warbler I glimpsed on the birdbath, a black-throated green warbler in the cedar trees, the rare stinging rose caterpillar spotted on a serviceberry, a set of Io moth caterpillars on the Baptisia and a very grumpy box turtle. And that was just new things in the yard! All the old friends came by too, including cedar waxwings, American redstarts, enough robins to fill a 747, goldfinches, juncoes, tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees. Plus there was a dog vomit slime mold in there, too, which was deeply revolting but really kinda cool.
The pond proved to be a triumph, as multiple frogs and a salamander moved in and laid eggs so thickly that the surface of the water looked like a sheet of jelly, followed by diving beetles, dragonflies, and other predators. I have no idea how many frogs actually reached adulthood, but hopefully more than a few. A copperhead came by, probably took note of the Very Large Rat Snake that owns the area, and moved on. (Mr. Rat Snake dined on frog tartare a few times. too.)
And of course, it was a brood year for cicadas, so we got plenty of goggle-eyed bugs clinging to every surface, including one that flew down my pants. No, I don’t want to talk about it.
The real backbone of the garden, however, is not any of the critters in it, but the plants that make it all happen. (Okay, okay, we could argue that the real backbone is microbes in the soil or worms or whatever. I, however, am not on a first name basis with my microbes, and the worms spend a lot of time flailing and going “AAAAGH! Something’s LOOKING AT ME!” which makes it hard to get acquainted.)
So, what did we learn about plants this year?
That’s It, I’m Done With You
I have given up on the following plants. Some of them are excellent plants, but they do not love me.
Annual red salvia — no more. I get one spindly plant and then it dies.
Annual Verbena & Black-and-Blue salvia — Annual, my ass. It’s December and both are still growing happily. If I’d wanted perennials there, I would have gotten perennials!
Black Cohosh — lovely plants. I have killed multiple specimens, mostly through too little water and too much sun, and have decided to leave the species alone from here on out.
Gaillardia — exactly like the one above, except that it was too much water.
Hyssop-Leaved Thoroughwort — I was so excited when I found this one. Then I discovered that “prolific reseeder” did not even begin to describe it. I pulled up about forty baby thoroughworts and exiled the plant to the grim clay hillside where it is welcome to try and get a foothold.
Chocolate snakeroot — Nice plants. Everything you want in a plant, really. They’re dead now. Obviously.
Russian Sage — Oh, it’s so hardy! Oh, it grows everywhere! Oh, it gets huge! Sure it does. You know how many of these I’ve killed? None of them ever got more than ten inches tall. Then died. Dramatically. While I was watching. I think one may have killed itself as a form of political protest.
You’re On Notice, Buddy
Carolina lupine — Well, this one will be on notice if I can find it again. I think I moved them someplace sunnier. I did not actually move the tag, though. It will be a big surprise come spring, or else it won’t.
Loblolly pine — They put me on notice. One tried to kill me by falling on my head. Fortunately I have very bad reflexes but very good luck, and so watched in mild amazement as it crashed down where I’d been standing about thirty seconds prior. It was unsettling.
New Jersey Tea — For being legendarily hardy and speedy and all that, this plant is doing exactly nothing of interest, and has been doing so for two years now. It gets a little longer before I yank it out, but I’m sure not buying any more.
Swamp Milkweed — I’m so over you, swamp milkweed. You never grew very well. Poke milkweed and annual tropical milkweed are where I’m at now. (Straight up butterfly weed was abandoned long ago as over-finicky.)
Canada ginger — I wanted so much to love Canada ginger, and I have killed so very many of them. The last batch, if it comes up, great. If it doesn’t, I’m done.
Orange Hummingbird Mint — This one did so well last year, and it just did not want to come back for beans this year. I was very disappointed, because it was so glorious last year. We’ll see if it was just a bad year, or if it just hates our wet springs or what.
Weeds, Weeds, And More Weeds
Okay, I will confess something moderately shameful. 2011 will be forever marked as the year I gave up and decided my winter cover crop was chickweed.
Chickweed’s a weed. It’s not even a native weed. It likes the cold, and it grows at approximately twenty miles a day, and unless I buy ten miles of black plastic and smother the entire yard, I cannot stop it. It was thoroughly established before I got here, and it is beyond my power to control. There is so much of it and it is so vigorous that it quite literally grows faster than I can weed.
It dies as soon as it gets hot, and it doesn’t really DO anything—I imagine it probably shades out early spring seedlings, but my few ephemerals come up through it, so it’s not like being overrun with kudzu or honeysuckle. It’s exasperating, but it could be a lot worse, and to give it what little credit it’s due, the very early bumblebees will nectar from it when nothing else is going on.
I yank it off the raised beds as I can, but I know when I’ve been beat.
We also acquired sheep sorrel, which is mildly pestiferous, but these small defeats are largely balanced by the fact that I have slaughtered the Japanese honeysuckle back to manageable levels.
Have I Mentioned How Much I Love You, Plant?
Walker’s Low Catmint — One of the tough backbone ornamentals in my garden, my single specimen put on such a long-term, uncomplaining, pollinator-covered display this year that I got a dozen more for a trouble spot.
Bee Balm — So often a thug, but in a good year, there’s over a month of sheer glory, during which you can hardly see the flowers for the hummingbirds, hawk-moths, bees and others.
Mountain Mint — I have never met one of these that I didn’t love. I have three or four different species, and they are all glorious.
Shrubby St. John’s Wort — So fantastic that I went out and planted three more.
Spiderwort — a native plant with spiky grass-like leaves, and an astonishing performer in spring. I did not expect to love it as much as I do.
Orange Milkwort — a wee native bog plant, which is so far thriving in a poorly drained but sunny part of the garden. At the Arboretum, they call ‘em “Bog Cheetos” and that’s pretty much what they look like.
Lobed Tickseed — What’s that? A coreopsis that loves wet feet? Seriously? (Actually, so does Chipola River Coreopsis, but it’s not quite as extraordinarily vigorous as the lobed.)
Annual Lobelia and Nasturtium — The only annuals this year that that behaved as I like an annual to behave—vigorous, glorious, flowery, and then instantly and reliably dead at frost.
Blue Star Amsonia — I fell passionately in love with the Amsonias this year. I hope very much that they return the love in spring.
So that’s more or less what happened in my garden this year. I moved a lot of dirt, I threw my back out a few times, I traumatized a couple of snakes, I stopped for frogs and box turtles. It was a good year.
And possibly next year I’ll finally finish the patio.
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